There are many things in my life that I hold dear to me. One of those things is ChIPS. Now before you crack up; no, I am not talking about potato chips (although those are marvellous little creations). ChIPS stands for Chronic Illness Peer Support, and is an organisation dedicated to young people with chronic illnesses.
When I first started at this program I was about 14 years old (in year 8). I hadn’t had much luck making friends and found it difficult to fit in at high school. When one of my doctors suggested this program, I was a little sceptical. I, like many other people when they hear the words “support group”, pictured a bunch of kids sitting in a circle talking about their feelings and singing songs. Ugh! It sounded painful.
But as it turns out, by this point I had nothing to lose and my curiosity trumped my scepticism, so I agreed to meet with one of the program managers. My first ever introduction to ChIPS was meeting a woman by the name of Meagan – who would later become the head manager. Meagan was and still is lovely! She greeted me with her warm smile and we sat down for a short interview.
I don’t remember a whole lot of what we talked about except that one of the questions she asked me was; “How would you rate the impact of your illness on your life?” or something along those lines. I responded with 50% at the time. But since then my answer has gotten significantly lower due to a change in perspective.
Meagan told me all about the many fun things ChIPS did and the values that were most important to uphold the program. The last thing she did was give me a copy of the wrapper (the annual magazine) for me to take home and flip through. I was immediately hooked.
After that, I arranged to take part in a 2-day intensive which were the introductory sessions to ChIPS. New chippers would come along, get to know each other and about ChIPS. We participated in fun activities including games, arts and crafts, and team building exercises. While I was nervous, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and kept coming back for more. The rest is history.
By the way, that was back in 2013 and five years later (July 2018), I was running a 2-day intensive for another group of new chippers, as a peer leader!
ChIPS really is amazing. All chippers have various chronic illnesses some visible and others not so visible. It was of course nothing like what I thought it was going to be. Instead we go on camps, have fun days out, organise leadership training, hold fundraisers, and yes, even publish an annual magazine. The whole program is run by chippers for chippers. We have a reference committee that meets every once a month to organise all the activities and publications etc, with RefCom divided up into sub-committees to handle each area of the program.
Sure, we have mentors and adult program managers who facilitate a lot of it, but in terms of how it is run and what we do, chippers have most of the say.
I have had the pleasure of being on RefCom a few times and honestly it is such a rewarding experience to volunteer my time to such an incredible organisation. I love being an active part of the program’s running and getting to see our work unfold for our peers to enjoy.
I’ve especially enjoyed being on the publications committee and helping out with the Wrapper. I feel like I’m in my element, plus it’s just so much fun and the reward to see the beautiful, glossy finished product at the end of the year.
Another honour is getting to be a peer leader. I was only given the role this year so I’m still learning the ropes. But again, I love being part of something that is bigger than me. I love being one of the people that my peers can rely on or talk to, and I felt really special when I was told I had leadership potential. I hope that I can prove people right. Plus, you learn a lot of responsibility and leadership skills in these roles.
ChIPS camps are a popular highlight of the ChIPS program, both January and September/October. The three-day trips are filled with endless fun activities including; high ropes courses, team work challenges and creative projects. In January, there is a theme and teams complete challenges to score points. Whereas September/October is less competitive and more about having fun. I have made so many fond memories at these camps and had so many good laughs. Even meal times are fun when we can all sit around and socialise like normal young people. There are t-shirts and awards every camp, plenty of photos are taken and all of this fun can make you forget about your phone and WIFI for three days.
I could go on and on and on about the socials, the fundraisers and all the other cool things we do here at ChIPS but I’m afraid there just ain’t enough time or writing space.
What I will tell you is that ChIPS is amazing because despite every member having a chronic illness, it is a mutual yet unspoken understanding that we are all dealing with our own struggles. We can share as much or as little as we like while remaining young people who are all treated equally.
We get to do all the things that so-called “normal kids” can do, with that added assistance. We can share in the good times and the bad. We can be our authentic selves without being questioned or ridiculed. We can learn and gain so much from this program while simultaneously giving something back by just being a part of it.
I have grown and changed so much since I first joined. I have made so many great friends to last a lifetime. I have another 6 years before I will have to say goodbye and move on to other adventures. But for now, I will continue to enjoy the safety, the privilege and the pleasure of being a part of such an amazing group of young people.